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What the Irish call the "big scraper" was wielded to create most of PGA National's 40 acres of water.
What the Irish call the "big scraper" was wielded to create most of PGA National's 40 acres of water. (GolfPublisher.com)

A little America and a lot of Ireland make a nice mix at PGA National

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,

JOHNSTOWN, Ireland - They take the brand name "PGA" seriously here, so the owner of the new PGA National Ireland wanted it to stand out in the world of Irish golf, to reflect a certain quality.

And that it does, from the moment you step into a clubhouse that can only be described as sumptuous, with its crystal chandeliers, antique vases and linen tablecloths. A broad outdoor patio overlooks the golf course. The flawlessly manicured practice greens are enclosed in a little garden, with a bridge over a bubbling stream.

The course, designed by Christy O'Connor Jr., has some distinctly American touches, such as 40 acres of lakes and ponds (all but the lovely first two dug with what the Irish call a "big scraper") that run through the course and come into play frequently. All the lengths are in yards, not meters.

One distinctly non-American feature is the surrounding area - there's nary a house save the old manor that was the home of the former owners, who ran a stud farm here. All around the course are vast open fields and pastures, where sheep and horses (including some Clydesdales) roam.

"A lot of people say it's a different course for Irish courses that have been built recently," said Assistant Professional Greg Massey. "It's not a real American course; it's a nice mixture."

Nice enough to attract appreciative locals as well as European pro tournaments.

"A lot of the professionals who played it last year say it's better than the K Club," local Eamon McGlinchy said, referring to the site of the 2006 Ryder Cup. "And they're right."

They may have a point. PGA National is one challenging and interesting hole after another, with seldom a letup. There are some long par 4s, some short but tricky par 3s and a handful of mammoth par 5s.

The verdict

PGA National Ireland doesn't have the wild Irish views of other tracks, especially those on the coast; the course itself is the star attraction here, along with the attendant service and clubhouse.

There are historical flourishes all around the parkland course, from the old manor house to stables where they still breed horses to the "cold room" once used to store freshly killed deer and cattle (there are believed to be only a handful left in Europe).

The owner, Irish businessman Jim Mansfield, continues to pour money into the facility - a million pounds on shrubs and plants, 5 million on imported trees. The course was closed most of the winter to upgrade the irrigation, and in mid-April it was still showing signs of the work; little ridges cut through the slightly soggy fairways.

The greens, though, were in immaculate condition. They aren't as challenging as some of the more difficult American greens, but they have enough slope to keep things interesting (though little undulation).

"The lads say if you get to within five feet, forget the breaks," McGlinchy said.

Green fees start at 100 euros. Weekdays are the best days for visitors to play.

Stay and play

If you're looking for a little architecture, the Johnstown House Hotel and Spa in nearby Enfield has it. The Georgian building dates from the 1750s; check out the drawing room's ornate doors and ornamented Rococo ceiling, showing a boy playing a bugle, a bird swooping on a fly and a bow and quiver with arrows.

Owned by Marriott, the Johnstown House has most of the modern amenities a weary traveler in Ireland is likely to want, including a leisure center with swimming pool, gym and outdoor tub. There's also a spa and a "relaxation room" overlooking the rooftop garden.

The Glenview Hotel is a good base for playing the courses of eastern Ireland, including Glen of the Downs, Greystones, Charlesland, Delgany and the European Club. The 70-room hotel sits high above and right off the N-11 motorway and is only 30 to 40 minutes from the city center of Dublin.

The property sits in the tree-bedecked hills of Glen of the Downs, with fine views of the Wicklow Mountains. The Glenview also has a beauty salon; a leisure club with a fitness center, whirlpool, sauna and steam room; a swimming pool; a "coffee dock"; a business room and conference space for up to 250 people.

Dining out

The Johnstown's Pavilion Restaurant offers fine dining (reservations required); the more informal Atrium Brasserie serves breakfast and lunch. It's about a 10-minute walk to Enfield village proper, with its pubs and restaurants.

Woodlands Restaurant at the Glenview has views of the mountains and the hotel's gardens, best appreciated with something from the extensive wine list. There's also the Conservatory Bar and Bistro, with casual food and specialty coffees, and the Malton Lounge for afternoon tea with yet more views. Nearby Bray has an assortment of eateries.

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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